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Crossover vehicles

2019 Honda Passport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In the ongoing struggle for supremacy on the crossover sport utility battlefield, Honda re-enlists a veteran name for an all-new combatant, the 2019 Passport.

It has not been around for 17 years, having left the market after the 2002 model year. The original Passport was the result of a partnership with Isuzu, another Japanese manufacturer, which re-badged its Rodeo SUV as the Passport.

The 2019 Passport goes on sale Feb 4

The other half of the equation was that Honda re-badged its Odyssey minivan as an Isuzu Oasis.

That first Passport was an SUV of its time, built like a truck with rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual gearbox and a 120-hp, 2.6-liter four-cylinder engine. A 3.2-liter V6 with 175 hp and a four-speed automatic transmission was optional.

Though there still are truck-based SUVs around, crossover sales have been exploding, dominating sales of traditional sedans. In 2018, crossovers achieved a 38% share of the vehicle market compared to 31% for cars. Crossover SUVs are built like cars, with unit bodies and, usually, front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive.

2019 Honda Passport

Though justifiably proud of its sedans, Honda is a captive of the trend. In 2018, the company sold 624,122 crossovers — the small HR-V, compact CR-V and three-row Pilot. The number does not include its Odyssey minivan or Ridgeline pickup truck, both classified as light trucks.

In the same year, Honda sold a total of 684,815 cars, including five models: the compact Civic, midsize Accord, subcompact Fit, hybrid Insight and the Clarity, available as an electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-fueled electric.

Honda claims supremacy in sales for its Civic and Accord. But unlike other makes, it counts only retail sales to individuals, not fleet sales to rental car and other multiple-unit buyers.

2019 Honda Passport

With the 2019 Passport, Honda’s offerings likely will soon tilt in favor of crossovers over cars, no matter how they are counted. That’s because the Passport plugs a gap in the company’s crossover lineup.

It’s a midsize, based on and slotted just below the three-row Pilot and above the compact CR-V and entry-level HR-V, which is marketed as a subcompact but is so roomy it would be considered midsize if it were a car. The U.S. government classifies cars by interior volume as subcompact, compact, midsize and large. Crossovers are classified by whatever you think.

The new Passport is nothing like its predecessor. Its wheelbase — the distance between the centers of its front and rear wheels — is the same as the larger Pilot but it is 6.2 inches shorter overall. Front and rear overhangs are tidier, giving the Passport better approach, departure and break-over angles for off-roading.

2019 Honda Passport

Of course, no crossover can rival a properly-equipped Jeep or Land Rover dedicated for off-roading. But the Passport acquitted itself well at the national introduction on unpaved roads in gorgeous but desolate areas surrounding Moab, Utah, including the spectacular Arches National Park.

As Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue” told it, the Passport handles competently in the “mud, the blood and the beer,” with Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. It can send up to 70% of the torque — or twisting force — to the rear wheels and 100% to the left or right wheels.

2019 Honda Passport

The tested Passport Elite, pushed too fast on a pockmarked unpaved road, went airborne over a sharp berm and seemed destined for a front-to-rear somersault, yet crunched smartly to a landing on all four wheels. Whew.

But the Passport is a slick piece of work on paved highways as well. In an era when 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, are becoming standard in luxury as well as popular-priced vehicles, the Passport comes with a tried-and-true Honda and Acura 3.5-liter V6 engine that exhibits the relaxed confidence of a great athlete coach trotting along with a group of marathon-wannabe pre-teens.

2019 Honda Passport

The V6 delivers 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque to the front or all four wheels with a nine-speed automatic transmission controlled by the Honda/Acura console-mounted pushbutton control. The system has been faulted by some critics, but not here. It is simple and intuitive: one-finger push for “drive” and “park,” pull for “reverse.”

There are four Passport trim levels, starting with the front-drive Sport at $33,045, including the destination charge. Others are the EX-L at $37,455 and Touring at $40,325. Tack on $1,900 for all-wheel drive. The tested top-line Elite, priced at $44,725, comes standard with all-wheel drive.

Can’t get no satisfaction? Give the Passport a try.

2019 Honda Passport

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Honda Passport Elite four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 115/41 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,237 pounds.
  • Maximum towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $44,725.
  • Price as tested: $44,725.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Honda Passport

Photos (c) Honda

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2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In an era when some vehicle designers equate complexity with desirability, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 rolls onstage as an easygoing, friendly travel companion.

Almost everything about it feels familiar, as if you’ve already had a relationship. It has comfort and available luxury, but without a goofy shift lever or an infotainment system where annoying fiddling is required just to set favorite radio stations.

2019_mazda_cx-5-6Climb aboard. In the tested top-of-the-line Signature model, you sit in a comfortable, well-bolstered perforated leather seat, heated and ventilated. Through the steering wheel you view bright white-on-black easy-to-read analog instruments.

The shifter has a traditional PRND shift pattern, though there’s a sideways M setting for manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission. Nearby is a switch for the parking brake — up for park, down for driving — next to a toggle switch that engages the sport driving mode, which enhances throttle response. You don’t have to look to operate them. Same for the radio volume knob.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-04-intStraight ahead, in your line of vision, is the head-up display. It delivers information about speed, road signs and the adaptive cruise control, which is easily engaged with buttons on the steering wheel.

In the center, at the top of the dash, is the infotainment screen. Sure, it’s small, not gigantic like the one on the Tesla Model 3. But it’s right where you can see with a quick glance what’s going on. No peering at it for anxious seconds.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-09-detailFunctions are operated by a knob on the console, which is more complicated than a touch screen but doesn’t require as much focused attention to the screen. Simple console buttons change what’s displayed.

The word for this is ergonomics, the science that seeks to adapt working conditions to the worker. It also applies to making the driving experience intuitive and transparent. Good ergonomics, of course, is not exclusive to Mazda. But the CX-5 is a particularly fine example of thoughtful design.

Yet for all of its old-shoe friendliness, the CX-5 is a thoroughly modern Millie. It is a compact crossover sport utility vehicle competing in a class that includes the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Because of Mazda’s current effort to move its models upscale, the CX-5, particularly in its luxury-equipped Signature version, sells for a few thousands of dollars more than the top-line CR-V and RAV4 models.

The tested CX-5 Signature had a base price of $37,885 and, with a few options, had a bottom-line sticker of $39,030. But its equipment and features rivaled those of luxury crossovers like the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, both of which are more expensive, well into the mid-$50,000 range.

2019_mazda_cx-5-1Mazda is not a huge player among manufacturers, not even in the compact crossover category. Yet as part of the current onrushing trend toward crossovers, the CX-5 is Mazda’s best seller in the U.S., totaling more sales than all of the company’s other models combined.

Aware of its lagging sales compared to its competitive set, Mazda has set out to distinguish the CX-5 in multiple ways that contribute to the driving experience. In that, performance enhances ergonomics.

There are five trim levels, starting with the Sport at $25,345. Others are the Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve and the tested Signature. Only the last two get Mazda’s new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The others use a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-banger with 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque.

cx9engine-201-1The turbo motor delivers enough grunt to accelerate the Signature model to 60 mph in slightly over six seconds — more than respectable in this era. Though it can be accomplished simply by punching the pedal to the floor, the Sport mode facilitates it by holding the shifts to higher revs. You can shift manually but only with the shift lever. There are no paddles on the steering wheel.

Handling is sedan-like with no apparent lean on curves. Straight-line driving requires few steering corrections and the CX-5 cruises quietly with a bit of engine noise only on acceleration. With the suspension system biased toward handling, the ride gets a bit choppy on rough roads.

There’s plenty of head and knee room for four persons, though the fifth center-rear position is impossibly cramped. The rear seatbacks are split in three and fold nearly flat to almost double the cargo space of 31 to 60 cubic feet.

2019-mazda-cx-5-signature-02-extSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; turbocharged, 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 11 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/31 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,825 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/27/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,885.
  • Price as tested: $39,030.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2017-mazda-cx-5-grand-touring-5Photos (c) Mazda

2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

It doesn’t crumble and has plenty of frosting, but you could argue that the 2019 Jeep Cherokee is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.

Most people think of Jeeps as Wranglers, rugged vehicles that can conquer any terrain anywhere but don’t offer much in creature comforts. In fact, Wrangler buyers want to be exposed to hardships, unprotected from the elements. That’s why roofs and doors can be removed, and modifications made to alter suspension systems to rock and roll over any obstacle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

What is less noted about the current crop of Jeeps is refinement. The new-generation 2018 Wrangler Unlimited four-door wagon was remarkable for its coming-of-age as a family station wagon that handles well in traffic and around curves, tracks steadily in a straight line and delivers long-distance comfort that can eliminate complaints from the kids and other passengers. Yet it can still handle trackless terrain.

The same could be said, with more emphasis, about the 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland tested for this review. This is a conventional compact crossover sport utility vehicle with pleasant styling, smooth and quiet operation, and the amenities that crossover buyers seek.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland and Cherokee Trailhawk

Sure, the doors don’t come off and the windshield doesn’t fold down. But the Cherokee is, in its soul, a Jeep with off-road capabilities that other manufacturers would envy — if they even bothered.

Most crossovers in this category simply offer front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive that responds to on-road and limited off-road conditions. Drivers of all-wheel drive models don’t have to think about anything; simply get in and drive.

But the Cherokee comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system, which allows the driver to choose the system for disparate conditions — after which it operates automatically. They are labeled as Automatic, Snow, Sand/Mud and Sport. They give the Cherokee capabilities that most other crossovers lack.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Still, it’s no Wrangler. If you are the sort whose idea of a vacation trip is bashing around trackless and boulder-strewn terrain at somewhere around two to five miles per hour, buy a Wrangler. The Cherokee can do some of that but is more of a multi-task machine, not great at everything but competent at most. On-road, it is the peer of most mid-priced compact crossovers like the Toyota RAV4 and even more expensive crossovers like the BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i.

The model tested for this review was the Cherokee Overland 4X4 model, which had a base price of $38,890, including the destination charge. The name prompts nostalgia because original Jeeps in World War II were built by the Willys Overland company.

As tested, it came with optional adaptive cruise control, panoramic motorized glass sunroof, collision warning with crash mitigation, brake assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot and rear cross-path detection, leather upholstery and automatic high-beam headlight control.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Standard equipment includes Apple Car Play, Android Auto, SXM satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and power front seats with memory for the driver’s seat. With other features, the bottom-line sticker came to $41,510.

Unlike many other crossovers powered by the now-ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, naturally aspirated or turbocharged, the Cherokee is motivated by a 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 engine that delivers 239 lb-ft of torque. The power gets to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission, which gave Jeep problems and delayed the original launch of the Cherokee, but which now is as refined as the rest of the vehicle.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Around town, the Cherokee has a responsive throttle that delivers sprightly acceleration. Highway cruising is comfortable and quiet with fatigue-free straight-line tracking. Curving roads are not daunting unless you have a lead foot on the go pedal.

As with other vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it has one of the more intuitive infotainment interfaces, with a large center-mounted screen. Setting radio pre-sets, for example, is a simple matter of tuning to the station and touching the screen briefly — unlike some vehicles that force to you go through maddening steps.

Passenger space is about the same as in a midsize car, offering good head and knee space front and rear. Only the center-rear passenger gets disrespected by a hard cushion, large floor hump and intrusion of the center console. Better to think of the Cherokee as a four-passenger vehicle with a spot for a backpack or purse. Seatbacks recline but not much, and they fold almost flat for extra cargo if needed.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Overland

 

Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Jeep Cherokee Overland four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.2-liter V6; 271 hp, 239 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with selective four-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/28 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,960 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 2,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/27/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $38,890.
  • Price as tested: $41,510.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019 Jeep® Cherokee Limited

Photos (c) FCA North America

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Playing hardball with its exceptional 2019 Santa Fe, Hyundai is on the verge of realizing its full competitive lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles.

It’s an important milestone, given the phenomenon of crossover sales that lately have been overpowering traditional sedans and coupes. In the 2017 model year, the South Korean company offered just two nameplates: the compact Tucson and the Santa Fe, a midsize offered with either two or three rows of seats. An earlier Veracruz model had been dropped in 2011.

Large-34014-2019SantaFeEarly in 2018, the brash new Kona arrived as smaller sibling of the Tucson. Now comes the two-row, midsize Santa Fe, formerly called the Santa Fe Sport, which will be followed by an all-new, as yet unnamed, large three-row, eight-passenger crossover. That will complete the lineup unless Hyundai decides to squeeze in another something someplace.

The existing three-row Santa Fe continues unchanged for about a year, after which it will be consigned to that great crossover retirement community in the sky. It will be sold as the Santa Fe XL until its replacement arrives.

The Santa Fe comes in five trim levels — SE, SEL, SEL Plus, Limited and Ultimate — with a starting price of $26,485, including the destination charge. All come with front-wheel drive standard. Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,700.

As some other manufacturers have done, the Santa Fe eschews stand-alone options in favor of escalating lists of features for each trim level. The tested top-of-the-line Ultimate, at $39,905, had only one minor option of $125 for carpeted floor maps.

Large-34019-2019SantaFeThere are two powertrains: 185-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 178 lb-ft of torque on the S, SEL and SEL Plus trims, and a 235-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 260 lb-ft of torque on the Limited and Ultimate models. All versions come with eight-speed automatic transmissions and idle stop-start.

Most notable from a peace of mind standpoint are two safety innovations. Rear Occupant Alert monitors the back seats with an ultrasonic sensor that detects movement of children or pets. As with some other vehicles, the system alerts drivers to check the rear seats after stopping and before exiting.

But the Santa Fe takes it to another important level. If for some reason a distracted driver forgets or ignores the warning, leaves the vehicle and locks the doors, the system honks the horn and sends an alert to the driver’s smart phone via Hyundai’s Blue Link connected car system. The innovation could prevent some of the 37 deaths that occur annually in the U.S., on average, of children left in hot cars.

Large-34023-2019SantaFeThe other system mimics blind-spot warning. If a rear-seat passenger tries to open a door and an oncoming car is detected, both visual and audio warnings are triggered. Also, it will prevent the driver from deactivating the electronic child safety lock until the oncoming car has passed.

Besides those safety features, the Santa Fe also comes with Hyundai Safety Sense, which includes forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning.

On the road, the tested all-wheel drive Santa Fe Ultimate delivered strong acceleration, a resilient ride and responsive handling. Tactile steering feedback felt more like a capable sedan than a tall crossover. Partly responsible was the all-wheel drive torque vectoring that apportioned the power to the rear wheels depending on road conditions, abetted by relocation of the rear shock absorbers.

Large-34029-2019SantaFeThere are three drive modes that adjust steering feel, ride motions and transmission shift points. Normal is the main setting for daily driving. Smart enhances fuel economy and Sport tightens everything up for improved performance, especially in challenging conditions like twisting mountain roads.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifted unobtrusively and can be manually shifted. However, shifting must be done with the console-mounted lever; there are no steering-wheel mounted paddles.

On smooth roads, the Santa Fe Ultimate was almost eerily quiet with only vague road and mechanical noises. There was no detectable wind noise. Comfort was first-cabin with the headliner and pillars upholstered in a soft cloth that would do justice to a living-room divan.

Contributing to the comfort were “variable density” front seats with power extensions to provide extra thigh support, as well as acoustic glass and a rigid body structure that makes extensive use of high-strength steel and strong structural adhesives.

Summing up, the 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate competes handily and almost lazily against other midsize crossover contenders.

Large-34046-2019SantaFeSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate 2.0T AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 235 hp, 260 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 8 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 111/36 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,960 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $39,780.
  • Price as tested: $39,905.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Large-34008-2019SantaFePhotos (c) Hyundai

2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Q: When is an Eclipse not an Eclipse? A: When it’s a 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

Okay. It has nothing to do with the eclipse of the sun that plunged parts of the United States into total darkness on Aug. 21, 2017.

Nope. It’s about an all-new crossover sport utility vehicle from  Mitsubishi of Japan that reprises a name from the past but on a completely different vehicle.

2018 Eclipse Cross

The original Eclipse was a sports coupe and convertible marketed in four different versions over 22 years from 1990 to 2012. For some of that time, Mitsubishi had a relationship with Chrysler, and the Eclipse also was rebadged as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth Laser.
Resurrecting the Eclipse name injects a dose of familiarity into a new vehicle that aims to take advantage of the stampede of buyers to crossovers — at the expense of traditional sedans and station wagons.

Some crossovers are little more than jacked-up hatchbacks with a bit of extra ground clearance and, in most cases, optional all-wheel drive. That’s not the case with the Eclipse Cross, which was designed from the get-go as a crossover with front- or all-wheel drive.

2018 Eclipse Cross

It is slightly smaller than popular compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, competing more directly against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Buick Encore, Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue Sport and Hyundai Kona.

As such, it is an affordable vehicle for singles, couples and small families who seek low-cost wheels with decent cargo space. It also is a tidy package for parking and negotiating urban traffic.

The Eclipse Cross is 14 feet 5 inches long with 95 cubic feet of space for passengers and 23 cubic feet for cargo behind the second-row seats. It has edgy styling, especially when viewed from the rear, which dictates a split tailgate window.

Though that restricts rear vision somewhat, the designers made up for it by installing rear headrests that slide up for passengers and down for a better view behind. The rear seats can be adjusted fore and aft to divvy space between passengers and cargo, and the backs fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area. The cargo floor, which is a tad high, hides a full-size temporary spare wheel and tire.

2018 Eclipse Cross

There are five trim levels, ranging from the front-drive ES at $24,900 to the SEL Touring at $31,390. The base price of the tested SE model with Mitsubishi’s S-AWC electronically controlled all-wheel drive  was $27,390. (The S-AWC, which stands for Super All-Wheel Control, has driver selectable adjustments for snow, gravel and automatic operation). With a few minor options, the tested price came to $27,715.

Power comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 152 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT) with a manual-shift mode.

With such a small engine, expectations were not high. But the combination delivers a strong and sprightly surge off the line, making the Eclipse Cross feel faster than it actually is. Though many critics deride CVTs for a sensation that the transmission is slipping, this one has very little of that. The small crossover cruises happily at freeway-plus speeds, though city/highway/combined fuel economy is just 25/26/25 mpg — likely because the little engine has to work hard.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Inside, comfort is first rate. The SE model came with heated and  luxurious cloth seats that were relaxing and supportive, with prominent seatback bolsters to coddle the torso. Seat adjustments were manual but allowed fine tuning. Outboard seats in back are similarly accommodating and even the center-rear position, though less comfortable, is at least usable.

Equipment included blind-spot warning, lane departure assist and rear cross-traffic alert; heated and automatic folding outside mirrors;  dual-zone automatic climate control; pushbutton starting, electric parking brake, rain-sensing windshield wipers; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; fog lights, and HD and SXM satellite radio.

The center touchscreen controls were not intuitive and required close attention to operate, so would be distracting to a driver trying to make adjustments while underway. Better to get things set up before moving off. Though there were remote audio buttons on the steering wheel, there was no volume control knob.

Despite its minor faults and Mitsubishi’s relatively low profile in the U.S., the new Eclipse Cross deserves a look for anyone seeking an entertaining and inexpensive crossover.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 152 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,550 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/26/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,390.
  • Price as tested: $27,715.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Eclipse Cross

Photos (c) Mitsubishi.

 

2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The most important and difficult thing in the automotive business is an institutional ability to predict the future. Bavarian Motor Works has actually managed some of that soothsaying, of which the 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i is a prime example.

Starting with the X5 in 1999, the German manufacturer has expanded its lineup of crossover sport utility vehicles to plug every size and power niche in the premium category—to the point where there are now seven distinct models: X1, new X2, X3 reviewed here, X4, X5, X6 and the upcoming X7, plus higher performance versions.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-001Whether the company was reacting to a trend or sucking its collective thumb contemplating where the market was headed, it has caught the wave of buyer infatuation with crossover SUVs, which are proliferating in every price class.

It remains to be seen whether this is a passing fad, but no matter. BMW also has a garage full of sedans, coupes, convertibles and sports cars in case there’s a course correction. We’ll skip self-driving cars for now.

Meanwhile, the company, which manufactures many of its crossovers at its plant in Spartanburg, S.C., entices high-end customers with machines like the new X3 xDrive 30i and the higher-performance — and higher-priced — X3 M40i.

P90263768_highResA note about BMW nomenclature: a lower-case i identifies a sedan like the 330i or 550i, the i3 electric car, or even the i8 hybrid sports car. If a capital X precedes a number, it is what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” known in the business as a crossover SUV. A lower-case x, as in xDrive, designates any BMW with all-wheel drive. Oh, there’s also the Z4 two-seat sports car. And if there’s an M somewhere in the title, it’s a higher-performance or better decorated model. Write it down.

The model numbers actually don’t mean much anymore. You might assume that the tested X3 xDrive 30i comes with a 3.0-liter engine. Nope. Because modern engines with turbocharging are getting smaller, this one actually delivers 248 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor.

Step up to the higher-performance X3 M40i and the engine actually is a 3.0-liter V6 with twin turbochargers that makes 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Enough said.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-003Back to the subject, the U.S.-built X3 30i. This is a nicely executed compact crossover with the power and features expected in this category. However, as with other automakers, BMW has an extensive options list and charges extra for equipment that is standard elsewhere.

For example: The $3,300 Premium package includes a heated steering wheel, navigation system and head-up display. Tack on another $350 for the heated front and rear seats. The $2,850 Convenience package gets you a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry, lumbar support and SXM satellite radio.

Continuing: The $1,400 Dynamic Handling package includes M Sport brakes, dynamic adaptive shock absorbers and variable sport steering, while the $900 Driving Assistance package covers blind spot and lane departure warning. The Parking Assist package covers a surround-view camera, active parking assist and distance control.

P90263747_highResThere also are individual options, including $1,700 for Vernasca leather upholstery, $875 for a premium Harman Kardon audio system, $300 for Apple CarPlay, $500 for wireless device charging and $550 for metallic paint.

You get the picture. All of that brought the test X3’s base price of $43,445 up to $57,620. Of course, there also were many desirable items that were part of the standard equipment, including the eight-speed automatic transmission, driver-selectable driving modes, hill-descent control, automatic stop/start, garage-door opener, dark oak wood interior trim, leather-covered steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED low-beam headlights and fog lights, and a power tailgate.

P90263757_highResMuch of that, of course, is frosting that doesn’t affect the basic driving goodness of the X3, which hews to BMW’s traditional dedication to performance, handling and braking. The X3, however, also delivers a luxury ambiance enhanced by a quiet cabin. You hear the engine under hard acceleration but highway cruising at a steady speed is almost tranquil.

Overall, however, this is an inviting modern conveyance that delivers a competent, pleasurable and comfortable driving experience with a dose of excitement. With sales of 40,691 in 2017, it is BMW’s third-best selling model, behind the 3-Series compact sedan and midsize X5 crossover SUV.

X3 competitors include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque and the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

BMW_X3_Performance_Center-006Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW X3 xDrive 30i four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 285 lb-ft of torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/29 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,156 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/29/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $43,445.
  • Price as tested: $57,620.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

P90263762_highResPhotos (c) BMW.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir may become as popular in its own way as its cousin, the GMC Yukon Denali, but it already was famous in typographical circles as a modern sans-serif typeface or font.

However, it may be that the Avenir name was chosen because it is the French word for “future.” Either way, it represents Buick’s effort to push its three-row crossover sport utility even more upscale to mimic the Denali versions in its GMC sibling division at General Motors.

Denali models, named for a mountain and national park in Alaska, have been an unqualified success for GMC, which is primarily a manufacturer of trucks and SUVs. It seems that many of its customers are eager to pay more for luxurious surroundings, so the Denali trim is available on six GMC models, including the Acadia Denali, a striver that is named for not one but two US National Parks, with Acadia located in Maine.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

A luxury ambiance also is the purpose of the new Enclave Avenir, a new, upscale trim level of Buick’s seven-passenger crossover SUV. It delivers stylish, flowing lines and is roughly the same size as the Chevrolet Traverse but a bit larger than the GMC Acadia.

The Avenir doesn’t directly compete with the three-row Yukon Denali, which comes in two lengths and is a fully-realized SUV built like a burly pickup truck with a body-on-frame. But the Avenir, properly equipped like the one tested for this review, can tow up to 5,000 pounds and accommodate six adults in reasonable comfort. A seventh can squeeze into the third-row seat.

Unfortunately, access to that third row is difficult and only available through the right-rear door. Plus, it takes muscle to flip the right-side second-row seat forward for access to the third row. However, the second row consists of two captain’s chairs so more nimble family members can scurry between them and get back in steerage.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-016The immediate impression when first seated in the Enclave Avenir is the plush surroundings — soft and supportive leather seats, heated and ventilated up front with heated second row seats; memory settings for the driver’s seat; pushbutton starting with remote locking; powered third-row seat that folds with the touch of a button; tri-zone automatic climate control; power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; dual-pane panoramic sunroof; full infotainment functions including navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, inductive device charging; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio.

2018-Buick-Enclave-Avenir-014The tested Avenir also came with 20-inch aluminum wheels and a $2,095 technology package that included adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking that augmented the standard safety equipment of lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, front pedestrian braking, rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree surround-vision camera.

However, the inside rear-view uses not a mirror but a camera, which makes for confusion because the driver’s eyes must constantly adjust for depth perception to see what’s going on. Better to stick with a standard mirror.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

On the road, the Enclave Avenir feels like the big vehicle it is. At 17 feet long and weighing 4,565 lbs, it is more of an easy-riding rolling comfort zone than a frisky conveyance with quick moves. In that sense, it’s just the thing for a long family road trip, mostly on freeways. Though it doesn’t have the interior dimensions of a minivan, it comes close. Among its competitors are similar luxury crossover SUVs like the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX70 and the Volvo XC90.

There’s 24 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third-row seat. Press a button to fold it and the space expands to 58 cubic feet. If you have to move something big like a side table, folding the second row as well opens 98 cubic feet of cargo space.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

The Avenir’s 310-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine with 266 lb-ft of torque is more than adequate to any motoring task, from merging onto freeways or passing on two-lane roads. It runs on regular grade gasoline.

The Avenir is available with standard front-wheel drive or—as on the version tested here — all-wheel drive. Power gets to the wheels through an easy-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode. It is controlled by a new shift lever that requires some attention before you learn to use it without thinking about it.

Overall, the Enclave Avenir would work for anyone with a minivan aversion and a desire for luxury. The tester started at $56,690 with a bottom-line sticker of $59,435.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir AWD 1SP four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter V6, 310 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 17 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 157/24 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,565 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/25/20 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $56,690.
  • Price as tested: $59,435.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Buick Enclave Avenir
2018 Buick Enclave Avenir

Photos (c) Buick.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a reservoir of affection from loyal fans, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek boosts the Japanese company’s relentless climb up the staircase to automotive nirvana.

Few vehicle manufacturers have been as successful as Subaru since industry sales tanked in the 2007-2009 recession. When other nameplates sagged and struggled, Subaru surged. Starting in 2008, its sales increased every year until they reached 615,132 in 2016.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek XV, a small crossover sport utility vehicle based on the same platform as the Impreza sedan and hatchback. It, too, has succeeded with sales up every year since, reaching 99,677 in 2016.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Front_in_motionSubaru insiders credit a chunk of the success to an epiphany that many owners loved their cars for their durability and reliability, and expected them to last a long time. The company morphed those sentiments into advertising that equated ownership with love.

Crossovers like the Crosstrek are generally described as SUV-like vehicles built with unit bodies like cars, where traditional SUVs are built like trucks with body-on-frame construction. Usually, crossovers have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive but all Subaru cars and crossovers, with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, come standard with all-wheel drive.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd_Red-FrontAs newer compact and subcompact crossovers threaten to engulf the marketplace, the 2018 Crosstrek (the SV designation has been dropped) is positioned to expand its reach as well.

In concept and size, the new generation Crosstrek is the same as the original, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But the 2018 is built on an all-new platform that will be used for Subaru vehicles world-wide and, according to company officials, it is 95% new with 80% new parts and a 70% more rigid structure.

A test drive fortified the claim. Though the original Crosstrek was a modestly capable vehicle, it did not have an overall aura of substance. In contrast, the new car has a rigid, solid feel. The steering, suspension system and tires contribute to confident handling and stable straight-line tracking. The Crosstrek also employs torque vectoring, which adjusts wheel speed in cornering.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-interior5The weak point is the power train, which despite a new 152-hp 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, does not differ much from the 148-hp engine in the original Crosstrek.

With a horizontally opposed engine, also referred to as a boxer or flat engine, the cylinders lie supine on both sides of the crankshaft instead of leaning or standing upright as on V or in-line engines. The squat design results in a lower center of gravity for better control.

The Crosstrek’s relaxed power is not as noticeable with the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) as with the 6-speed manual gearbox.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-interior_2toneOn modest uphill highway stretches with the manual transmission, the driver often finds that downshifts to as low as third gear are required as the engine struggles to supply enough power. It’s as if the drivetrain were designed to maximize fuel economy over performance.

The power shortage is not nearly as noticeable with the CVT, which uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly adjust engine revolutions as needed. There are two CVT versions. On lower trim levels, the CVT adjusts to enhance acceleration and off-road performance. On the Limited model tested here, the CVT came with a computerized 7-speed manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Although the Crosstrek is not designed as an all-out boondocks buddy, it does have enough ground clearance and capability to handle some off-road territory, as well as delivering confident performance in snow and other foul weather conditions.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-2tone_rear_seatWith the manual gearbox, the all-wheel drive system distributes power 50-50 to the front and rear wheels. If slippage occurs, it automatically transfers the power to the wheels with the most traction.

On CVT equipped models, the system automatically adjusts the torque distribution based on available traction, acceleration and deceleration. There’s also a hill-descent control to maintain traction at low speeds downhill.

18MY_Crosstrek-engineThe 2018 Crosstrek arrives with three trim levels: Base, at $22,710 including the destination charge; Premium, at $23,510; and Limited, at $27,210. Both the base and Premium versions come with the new 6-speed manual gearbox (up from a 5-speed before). The CVT is a $1,000 option, but is standard on the Limited.

Premium and Limited models can be equipped with Subaru’s optional EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Rear_in_motionSpecifications

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, 152 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with 7-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,210.
  • Price as tested: $30,655.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-wheelPhotos (c) Subaru.

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